Ronen Bergman writes a must read article for this weekend's New York Times Magazine.
In calculating Israel's options with regard to the Iranian nuclear threat, Defense Minister Ehud Barak cited three broad questions:
1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?
2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?
3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran’s nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?
For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged in the mid-1990s, at least some of Israel’s most powerful leaders believe that the response to all of these questions is yes.
Read the whole article here.
Thank you for your comments. Regarding your three points, I think it is instructive to remember that the Pakistanis over-ran and destroyed our embassy in Pakistan in 1979 as well. We seem to have gotten over that one. The current government in Iran was not responsible for the hostage crisis, but did benefit from it. If support to insurgent groups that fight the US connotes a state of war or general hostility toward the US, then we need to embrace the fact that Saudi Arabia (Saudis disproportionately represented suicide bombers in Iraq) and Pakistan are hostile to the US. The Iran hostage crisis is an example of diplomacy working - not on the timeline we wanted, but working none the less. I seem also to remember that Iran supported the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. We should also not forget that Israel actually supported the Ayatollahs when they came to power since they were going to be actively hostile to Saddam's Iraq. Yes - times change, but the past informs the present and future.
The US can't live with a nuclear Iran for several reasons:
<li>The Iranian government is actively hostile to the United States. For example:<ul>
<li>Beirut Bombing (via Proxy)</li>
<li>Support of insurgents in Iraq</li>
</ul> You can make a case that the Iranian government is currently engaged in a low level proxy war with the US.</li>
<li>Location. Look at the threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz. A nuclear Iran makes a threat like that much harder to counter.</li>
<li>General desire to limit proliferation</li>
This situation is different from the SU, PRC, and DPRK in that it can be countered using conventional forces. An invasion of the Soviet Union under Stalin or China under Mao would have caused World War III. We could have stopped the DPRK, but that would have destroyed South Korea as well as have caused issues with China. I also think that there is less intelligence regarding the DPRK, as well as having Iraq and Afghanistan as a distraction. I think that allowing the DPRK to go nuclear was and is seen as a major mistake and that the US shouldn't repeat that mistake with Iran.
<p>Pakistan wasn't seen as unstable as Iran when they developed their nuclear capability. Additionally, they were very focused on India which had just developed a nuclear weapon.
<p>Israel was the principal US proxy in the middle east during the time that they allegedly developed a nuclear weapon. Additionally, Israel was not seen and is not currently seen as a unstable country.
The three questions are very interesting. The first question does not ask whether the IDF has the capability to destroy the Iranian nuclear program, but rather, asks if it has the capability to "cause a major delay." One is left assuming that if success looks like a major delay, then the IDF is preparing for strikes that will need to be repeated every few years in perpetuity. This is not an acceptable COA/strategy for the US - who is seeking stability in the Middle East. Strangely enough, it is probably acceptable to the Saudis and Russians, who desire just enough instability to keep oil prices artifically high. As to whether the Israeli have US support, I would hope the answer is reached based on a review of our national interests vice out of some misplaced sense of loyalty to Israel - who has never put US interests on the same level or above their own - nor should they. Israeli leaders have likely concluded that a strike against Iran will likely provoke a response by Hizballah and Hamas, as well as provide Iran will the ability to paint itself as the victim. The final question asks about efforts to contain the Iranians. I am confident that the word containment was chosen purposefully, thus, can only conclude that the answer is no - not all efforts have been exhausted. I am unaware of any American/Israeli/Iranian summit akin to those that occured with regularity during the Cold War, any attempt to impose a naval blockade, or any attempt to make them the proverbial offer they cant refuse in exchange for their nuclear program - unless we consider the IDF holding a gun to their head an offer they cant refuse. I continue to come back to one question that no one appears to be able to answer - why cant the US live with a nuclear armed Iran? What is different about Iran that makes it much worse or less rational than a nuclear-armed Soviet Union under Stalin and those who followed, PRC under Mao, North Korea under Kim Jong-Il, Pakistan under military rule, or Israel? We have somehow been able to tolerate all of those regimes - all of which engage in proliferation, and all of which support terrorism. Why is Iran different? If one returns to US goals in the Middle East, I think one will conclude that our overall goal is stability. I am not sure how an Israeli strike on Iran - which they admit will only delay the program, is consistent with that goal.
Certain Israeli intelligence agencies, like our American intelligence agencies, concede that the Iranians don't have a current nuclear weapons program.
But still, many of their politicians and our politicians have been hyping this supposed threat for years now.
Back in the mid-80's, Jane's Defence actually calculated they'd have a nuclear weapon in one year's time! And ever since, we continue to hear the same old; year in and year out.
So our intelligence agencies state there's no current weapons program, and the IAEA continues to confirm there's been no diversion of nuclear material. So any attack on Iran would be based on Iran's enrichment of uranium, which is considered legal within the framework of the NPT. Based solely on that, pretty hard to qualify such an attack if the US or Israelis wished to conform to international law.
But anyway, for the past several years now, I've been taking bets against Israel attacking Iran. And every year the Israelis haven't attacked results in my colleagues buying rounds of beers at our favorite local tavern.